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Philly Development Offers Glimpse of Green Real Estate's Future

Denise Lehmann and Alex Plessett are building their dream, quite literally.

The builder-REALTOR® pair are the masterminds behind the largest LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) designated green residential development in Philadelphia. In July, they broke ground on Sheldon Crossing, 20 units of high-end sustainable housing, and expect homes in Phase I to be available for purchase by the year’s end.

While Lehmann and Plessett both hope to see the success of their development come to fruition, they also have a message – that sustainability does not have to sacrifice quality, and that green is the future of real estate.

“REALTORS® are really just beginning to learn about sustainability issues and how important it is for their clients,” Plessett says. “They don’t all need to be experts, but it’s important to be able to talk to their buyers about green products, energy efficiency, and the benefits of living in a green home.

“It’s important for REALTORS® to jump on the bandwagon, because green is here – and it’s here to stay.”

Plessett and Lehmann met about 15 years ago – Lehmann was looking to buy a home, and Plessett, a RE/MAX associate, was the listing agent for one of the properties she was interested in. In the end, she didn’t buy that house, but Plessett did leave a lasting impression. Six years later, when Lehmann started rehabbing homes, she gave Plessett a call.

“I remembered how on-the-ball he was,” Lehmann says. “So I started buying, renovating, and selling homes through Alex. We just established a great working relationship as well as a friendship.”

Along the way, Lehmann transitioned from rehab projects to new construction. “It was a lot of work for one person,” said Lehmann. “Alex was the only person I could ever consider partnering with.”

The pair formed Denale, Inc. And about four years ago, Plessett sent Lehmann a listing for a property in the Manayunk neighborhood of Philadelphia on Sheldon Street. “I went to look at it – it was at night in the summer – and I thought it was perfect,” Lehmann said.

Manayunk, which was once an old mill town, is an up and coming neighborhood in Philadelphia with shops, boutiques, and restaurants. “It’s a very exciting place to be,” Plessett says.

Sheldon Crossing rendering
Sheldon Crossing rendering

After acquiring five parcels over two years, Plessett and Lehmann had the space they were looking for. They took down two dilapidated closed up buildings, and cleaned up remnants of an old garage and construction waste. Lehmann knew right away that the development would be a healthy, sustainable residential community, and set out researching and compiling contractors who specialized in cutting-edge techniques.

Lehmann had already been using Energy Star standards in her prior real estate projects. “At that time, there was no LEED home certification program by the USGBC,” Lehmann says. “When we found about that the LEED program was created, it was a no-brainer to go that route.”

The LEED designation system set forth by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has been quite popular within the commercial real estate industry, with 35,000 projects currently participating in the LEED system worldwide. However, the LEED green certification system for homes was just launched in February 2008. As of April 2009, only 1,908 homes were certified by LEED for Homes, with another 9,667 seeking the designation.

It is anticipated that Sheldon Crossing will receive the highest LEED certification, platinum level – a significant accomplishment for a residential property.

“It’s about building well,” says Lehmann.

Green elements include green rooftops and solar panels.
Sustainable elements include green rooftops and solar panels.

The following are a few of the elements that have qualified Sheldon Crossing for the LEED designation:

  • Ideal Precast Foundation: The concrete foundation walls provide a high-rated (R23.5) insulation level and are constructed with recycled materials.
  • Green Roofs: Vegetative green roofs on top of each unit provide additional insulation, extend the life of the roof by two to three times, and manage the development’s stormwater runoff.
  • PV Solar Panels: Photo Voltaic solar panels on top of the homes provide electricity and reduce the homes’ energy consumption by more than 50 percent.
  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified Lumber: All framing, millwork, flooring, and cabinetry are certified by the FSC, which practices responsible forest-management principles.
  • No and Low VOC: Volatile Organic Compounds emit smog producing pollutants into the air. All Sheldon Crossing homes will include no-VOC paints and low VOC carpets.
  • Porous Pavers: In partnership with the city of Philadelphia, Sheldon Crossing will use a porous system on sidewalks, walkways, and driveways, which filters storm water and reduces infiltration to the public sewer system.

“There is the misconception that sustainable equates to sacrifice – because it’s green, we have to give up the luxuries and amenities we’ve all become accustom to,” Lehmann says. “I don’t believe this is true. We are integrating green with luxury.”

The average Sheldon Crossing home includes about 3,800 square feet of living space, and offers upper-end features such as fireplaces, garages, granite countertops, air and purification systems, heat recovery ventilators, tankless water heaters, and central vacuums. Homes start the mid-$700,000s.

“You cannot stop new development and growth. That’s what America is built on,” Lehmann says. “But I believe that with today’s technology and awareness, it is possible to build new without impacting the environment in a negative way. We’re doing it and many others are doing it. These healthy homes are for the greater good of everyone.”

Statistics from the USGBC show that buildings in the United States are responsible for 39 percent of CO2 emissions, 40 percent of energy consumption, and 13 percent of water usage. However, green building could significantly impact these figures, while creating more economic and environmental opportunities.

“Greater building efficiency can meet 85 percent of future U.S. demand for energy, and a national commitment to green building has the potential to generate 2.5 million American jobs,” according to the USGBC.

“I think we’re just scratching the surface for new development and building in a sustainable manner and minimizing the impact or even mitigate the impact,” Lehmann says.

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